Searching for a Job in the Holiday Season

Whether you are looking to make a career change for the new year or you have learned that your position has been eliminated or reorganized, this can be the perfect time of year to ramp up your job search.  While it may be tempting to lay low under after the holidays, you could be missing out on the most productive time of the year to lay the foundation for a successful job search.

Prepare Your Tools

You need to be prepared for your job search journey so take advantage of the opportunity to update your tools.  Review and update your resume.  Ask others for feedback.  Practice writing cover letters for positions you may be interested in to get back in the groove.  If you do not have a Linked In profile build one, if you have one, update it.  Focus on putting your best professional foot forward.

Define Your Plan

You need a plan.  Identify the companies the fit your key criteria – industry, size, geography, etc.  Research the companies you are most interested in to learn more about their financials, plans, competitors, challenges, etc.  Review your network to identify contacts in those organizations.  Review their recent postings to see if there have been positions that interest you and review their qualifications for those roles.

Network Like Crazy

For many professionals, there is some quieter time at work around the holidays.  Unless they are closing the books for the year or involved in a significant time- constrained project, this is an easier time of year to get on someone’s calendar for an informational interview.  Take advantage of this to network like crazy.  Talk to as many people as you can in your target companies to learn more about the companies, their hiring practices and the skills sets they seek.  Talk to people in the roles that interest you.

Use your social gatherings during the holiday season to learn more about where people work and what they do so you can identify targets for additional informational interviews.  This is the perfect time of year to expand your network.  Be sure friends and family members know you are seeking a job and help them understand the types of companies and roles you are seeking.  They may have contacts who are able to  help.  You will never know that their next door neighbor works at your top company if you don’t ask!

Maintain and leverage your current network by reaching out to people you may have worked with in the past to let them know you are back in the job market.  They can offer suggestions, advice and valuable connections as well.  You are not in this alone – leverage your resources.

Most professional associations have social events at this time of year.  Identify appropriate groups for your profession and attend an event or two to meet others in your field.

Timing Matters

While it may feel that this is the worst possible time of year to be out of work, there is a silver lining.  Many companies are on calendar year budgets and with the start of the new year they often have new headcount in the budget.  There is typically a surge of hiring activity in the first quarter.  To take full advantage of that, prepare your tools and build your network now so you are poised for success in the new year.

A productive December of research, planning and networking could position you for great success in January when positions open up.

 

 

Anticipate Unusual Interview Questions

Job candidates tend to focus their interview preparation on researching the company and the interviewers while also preparing their responses to “tried and true” interview questions and behavioral questions.  This preparation is all critical to success on the interview.  However candidates must also be prepared for the unexpected if they hope to shine in the interview.

Why do employers ask unusual questions or ask candidates to respond to mini-case situations?  All other interviews are focused on your past performance and the hiring managers are trying to use that data to anticipate how you will perform in their new role.  Case and unusual questions offer the employers and opportunity to see how you think and how you perform under pressure.  It is less about finding the right answer and more about how you think and logically process the information.

Advice for Success in Mini-Case Situations or Unusual Questions

  • Be well prepared for your “tried and true” questions and have several stories prepared that you can use to address a variety of behavioral questions.  The better prepared you are for these questions the less disruptive the unique questions will be.
  • Have key facts in your head in round numbers.  US population and world population for example.  Know key facts about the company and the industry.
  • Practice answering unique questions in advance.  Use online lists of questions to test yourself.  Practice case questions in advance.  The more you practice the better you will perform in the interview.

 

Examples of Unusual Questions or Mini-Case Situations

  • “What you would do if you were in this job and the CEO called and asked you why sales were down in the X division last month and then told you she needed an answer in an hour before her executive team meeting?”  This isn’t the time to talk about surveying customers or implementing tracking programs for new promotions.  What information do you need to put your hands on?  How would you use that information?  What kinds of questions do you need to ask?  You need to talk them through your thought process to show that you are thinking logically about the issue and finding actionable data.
  • “We’ve experienced disruption in the manufacturing department for each of the last three months due to timing delays of getting the six specific component parts to the assembly station for a critical part of the manufacturing process.  The VP of Manufacturing is very upset and has assured the CEO it won’t happen again next month.  He needs your recommendations first thing in the morning.”  What information do you need and what possible solutions can you offer?  Think through the process out loud so they can see your thought process.
  • “What would you do if the major project you were working on had a deadline of next week to the senior VP and the team can’t agree on next steps?”
  • “What would you do if you lived on an island that ran out of diapers and any materials commonly used to produce diapers?”  I actually had an employer ask this of our students and students enjoyed thinking of creative solutions.  It is less about the specific answer and more about how you think creatively about a problem.  Students who could not provide any response did not advance in the process.
  • If you could be an animal, what type would you be and why?  Clearly no right or wrong answer but they want to see how you think on your feet.
  • “How many cars would be in the parking lot in our ABC store on a Thursday morning between10 and 12?”  Think about what you need to know about their business and that location.  Think about the categories of cars that would be there.  Make assumptions and explain your thought process.
  • “How many replacement tires are sold in the US in a given year?”  Use round numbers to talk through your assumptions and make an informed guess.
  • “What was your favorite thing to play as a child?”

At this point, we are seeing most employers asking a mix of all three types of questions to get as good a sense as possible of how well the candidate will fit in their organization and how well they will be able to perform the specific job.

Remember, employers are assessing not only your skills to perform the job but also you fit with their team and the company.

 

Enjoy the Holiday Party but…

‘Tis the season for holiday parties and gatherings with both business and social contacts.  These activities can help you advance your career if you use them appropriately.  It is important to avoid any negative impact on your career.

Holiday Office Parties

  • Network like crazy. This is an amazing opportunity to make connections outside the group you with work with every day.  Try to meet as many people as possible and ask about what they do.  Keep track of people you want to follow-up with back in the office.  Use this informal opportunity to make a positive impression and build your connections.  Remember spouses and significant others can be valuable connections as well.
  • Use Every Opportunity to Connect. Resist the temptation to hide in the corner or spend the entire evening with the people you work with every day.  Take advantage of the opportunity to network as much as possible.  Talk to people waiting in line for the bar, the buffet or even the rest room.  You have something in common already so use the opportunity to introduce yourself and learn about what they do.  You may be pleasantly surprised by who you meet and what you learn.
  • Keep it professional. Yes it is a social event but it is still a business event.  You have to face these people on Monday morning.  You do not want to be the talk of the office on Monday morning.  Do not do anything to stand out in a negative way.  This is not the time to overindulge, make unwanted advances, bad mouth the company or take over the microphone for karaoke.  Keep it professional and you’ll have no regrets.  Drinking too much at the party could be a career limiting move.
  • Dress professionally. While it is fine to get in the spirit of the festivities and dress up a bit, keep it professional.  Avoid anything suggestive, revealing or inappropriate.
  • Social Media Considerations. Resist the urge to post FaceBook photos of an out of control colleague at the party.  Do not tweet inappropriate comments.  Even if someone is acting inappropriately it doesn’t make you look good to be the one highlighting their bad behavior publicly.  Keep photos and tweets professional.

Professional Holiday Gatherings

  • Network Constantly. Many professional and business organizations plan holiday events.  These are great opportunities for networking with peers in your field.  Use each gathering as an opportunity to meet new people and learn a bit about what they do.  For those with whom you wish to have a more in depth conversation, ask if you can follow up after the holidays.  Most people like to talk about what they do so just ask and you’ll be surprised by what you learn.
  • Share Your Focus. If you are seriously looking for your next opportunity, let people know what you are looking for so they are able to identify opportunities to help.  They may have contacts at your target companies.  Don’t spend the entire event pressing people for contacts but bring it up as appropriate in your conversations.  You never know what valuable connections may result from a casual conversation at a social event.  Be interested in others by asking what they do, where they work, what they like most about their jobs.  You will be amazed by how much your can learn.
  • Behave Professionally. Make a great impression so people will remember you positively and will want to introduce you to their contacts.
  • Make Introductions. Help others meet people at the event by offering to make introductions.  They will appreciate the connections and they will value your support.

Enjoy the holiday festivities with colleagues but remember, these are still a professional events.  Be on your best behavior to avoid regrets on Monday morning.  It is a valuable opportunity to meet other colleagues outside your daily interactions and to meet the interesting spouses and significant others of your colleagues.  Networking is great – just don’t try looking for a new job while attending your company party!!!

Storytelling for Interview success

To maximize your success in interviews, you need to be prepared to tell a compelling story – your story.  This is not a fantasy tale of the dream you but the true story of your experience, competencies and goals.  The interviewer will have your resume in advance of the interview so they already have the facts.  You need to add the context to the facts by telling your story successfully.

Define Your Story – In the job search, you are your own personal brand.  Consider carefully who you are and what value you bring to the employer.  Think in advance about how you best present that story in your interview.  It is not simply stating the facts.  They know you pursued your MBA from your resume.  Be prepared to talk about why you chose to pursue further education, why you chose the particular school, what your learned that has been most valuable in your career, etc.  Show the interview your thought process and motivation while providing context for the facts.

Market Yourself – Often career decisions are motivated by certain realities in the moment but with hindsight you can see a path the evolved from those decisions.  You are selling yourself in the interview process so focus on the bigger picture.  Instead of saying you went back to school because you’d be laid off, explain that in a difficult economy you realized that you needed to hone your business skills to be successful in the long term.  This was the perfect opportunity to seek further education to make a career change or to accelerate your career advancement.  Maybe you left a particular job to gain more experience in a new area that would be critical to your longer term goals.

Be Confident and Prepared – These are the questions interviewers expect you to nail.  It is your story, you know it better than anyone else.  Be well prepared so you tell your story confidently without hesitation when asked.  You should not need time to think about the answers to these questions.  Practice with a friend to ensure that you can articulate your story effectively.  Often you can skip the boring I left this job to this and then took another job to do that.  Weave a story to show your progression and motivation while highlighting the skills you developed along the way.

Effectively telling your story in an interview can significantly increase your success.

Overcoming Networking Anxiety

If the thought of increased networking over the holidays overwhelms you with a blast of wintery air, don’t panic.  You are not alone.  Forget the word networking and focus on having conversations.  Here’s some advice to help you thrive in the holiday networking frenzy.

Arrive Early – It can be overwhelming to arrive at the door of a packed room with conversations buzzing around you.  Don’t put yourself in that situation.  Arrive early so you can engage others as they arrive, a few at a time.  You will be so busy chatting that you will not even notice the room filling up around you.

Target Lone Individuals – If breaking into a group conversation intimidates you, find the lone individuals in the room and engage them in a conversation.  Making them feel more at ease will help increase your comfort level as well.

Be Prepared – Plan in advance how you wish to introduce yourself and what you most want people to remember about you.  If you have a registration list in advance, identify the people you are most interested in meeting and do a bit a research so you have relevant questions prepared.

Have conversation starters prepared – Your goal is to put yourself and the other person at ease by avoiding the awkward pause after the introductions.  Be prepared to take control of the conversation.  Have some questions prepared to start the conversation.  Most people enjoy talking about themselves and their work if you give them the opportunity.  Avoid mundane topics like the weather.  Ask questions that will get the person talking and will provide you valuable insights.

  • How long have you been with the company and what made you decide to join them?
  • What do you enjoy most in your current role?
  • How did you decide to pursue a career in this field?
  • What advice do you have for a student considering a career in this field?
  • What career path led you to your current position?

For conversations that are less job focused, consider the following:

  • What is the best book you’ve read in the past year and why?
  • Where to you go on your most recent vacation and what did you enjoy most about the trip?
  • Have you always lived in this area, if not, where else have you lived?
  • What interesting fact can you share about yourself that I wouldn’t find online?
  • Where is your favorite place to eat and why?
  • What do you enjoy doing most when you are not working?
  • If you could have dinner with anyone in the world, living or dead, who would it be and why?

These types of questions are guaranteed to get the conversation flowing.  Be prepared the answer these for yourself if they turn the tables on you.

Enjoy the conversation – Stop thinking about it as networking and enjoy the conversation.  Ask relevant follow up questions.  Be a good listener.  When it is time to move on, thank the person for the time.  If you know others in the room, offer to make introductions.

Do not add stress to your busy holiday season by worrying about holiday networking.  Approach your networking opportunities as conversations and enjoy one conversation at a time.

Questions Not to Ask in an Interview

During the process of interviewing for a new job, it is critical that you ask questions during the process to demonstrate your interest and engagement.  However, there are certain questions that should NOT be asked in an interview.

  • What is the salary? It is critical that you sell the hiring manager and team on the value you bring to the position.  Asking about salary early in the process can negatively impact your advancement in the process.  Focus on earning their interest first.  They will bring up salary at an appropriate time during the process.
  • What are the benefits? For the same reasons as with the salary question, don’t get ahead of yourself.  You need to sell yourself for the position before you worry about benefits.
  • When will I be promoted? Once you have successfully sold the value you could bring to the position you may want to ask what the manager would consider success in that role after the first year.  You may ask about possible career progression.  Do not specifically ask about being promoted.  It comes across as arrogant to assume that you will be promoted.  Promotions are based on merit but may also be dependent on business needs and budgets.
  • Can I work from home? Can I work flexible hours?  Unless the job states that it is a virtual position or flexible hours, assume that it is in the office during regular business hours.  In many companies you have to prove yourself before you can be considered for working from home or with flexible hours.  Get the job first and show them what you can do.
  • What does your Company do? This question or any other question that could be answered by a five minute review of their website clearly demonstrates that you were not interested enough to do even a basic amount of preparation.  If you are not taking the opportunity seriously, why should they seriously consider you?  Any question that shows you didn’t prepare or that you weren’t listening is not going to land you the job.

Use the interview to demonstrate your transferrable skills, the value you bring to the position and your passion for the opportunity.  Sell yourself first before you worry about salary, benefits and flexibility.  This will help you increase your success on interviews.